LAKEWOOD RANCH -- When Violeta Huesman joined the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance six years ago, the Keiser University employee "didn't know a soul in the community."
On Wednesday, Huesman was named the Networking Queen at the alliance's fourth annual Sandies Members' Choice Awards luncheon. Huesman was one of nine winners announced at the luncheon at the Fete Ballroom at Polo Grill & Bar.
"You only get one shot in life," Huesman said to the more than 250 alliance members and others in attendance. "There is a reason. There is a season, and there is a forever. As I look out there, this is my forever."
The nine award categories are: One of a Kind, Bull by the Horns, Rising Star, Ray of Sunshine, Networking King, Networking Queen, Volunteer of the Year, Young Professional of the Year and Best Rancher. The winners each received a green and blue sandhill crane-shaped trophy and the finalists received a certificate of recognition.
The winners are:
One of a Kind: Lori Denny, SouthTech
Bull by the Horns: Barbara Jones, Kerkering, Barberio & Co.
Rising Star: Holly Littlefield, Mauldin & Jenkins
Ray of Sunshine: Lori Ruth, Observer Media Group
Networking King: Brian Volner, C1 Bank
Networking Queen: Violeta Huesman, Keiser University
Volunteer of the Year: Jason Seelbach, Truman's Tap & Grill
Young Professional of the Year: Amanda Vercheski, LWR Commercial Realty
Best Rancher: Yasemin Chain, ComCenter Lakewood Ranch
The Sandies honor Lakewood Ranch Business alliance leaderd and volunteers, and the winners are chosen by their peers from a pool of 48 finalists.
The Sandies "recognize the people who are truly the engine of this organization," alliance executive director Heather Kasten said. "Today is really their day to be celebrated ... They do so much through the course of the year and most of it is behind the scenes. It is really the behind the scenes work of volunteers that make it all come together."
As attendees feasted on a traditional Thanksgiving meal, event sponsors briefly spoke about their businesses and presented the awards to the winners, who each gave a short speech. ABC 7 News Anchor Stephanie Roberts, who was the mistress of ceremonies, told all the attendees to encourage their friends to follow their lead and volunteer.
"It is the littlest things that make the difference," she said. "If you can strive to improve other people's lives, you will undoubtedly improve yours."
Established in 2005 with five members, the alliance has close to 500 members and about 150 people joined this year.
"I hope that I have given back to you at least what I've received," outgoing alliance chairwoman of the board Annette Gueli told the crowd.
Claire Aronson, University Parkway/Sarasota reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Claire_Aronson.